The Low Down on Kefir

It's seems unlikely that kefir — a sour, fermented kind of milk — has moved into the mainstream. It's even more unlikely that I'd ever consider trying a sour, fermented milk drink, given my long-standing phobia of spoiled milk.

But that's precisely what I'm thinking about doing after hearing several friends sing its praises. In fact, the buzz is that kefir could be a nutritional powerhouse, capable of everything from reducing blood pressure to curing cancer. So I poked around a little, and here's what I learned:

What is it, exactly?

Like yogurt, kefir is made by fermenting milk with bacteria. But kefir is also fermented with yeast, which introduces "probiotics" and are good for the digestive system.

 What are its nutritional benefits?

It's a great source of folic acid, calcium, protein and potassium. Like most probiotics, it's a digestive aid that reduces bloating, stomach pain and gas. It's also shown to be effective in helping kids recover from diarrhea in infants.

What about the other health claims?

 Kefir has been studied for its immune-boosting properties. Research has shown that it does hinder tumor cell growth in animals. It also increased the activity of such immune system cells as so-called natural killer and T-helper cells. Other studies have shown that it could play a role in reducing serum cholesterol and blood pressure. There's an informative article in the Los Angeles Times that takes a closer look at the studies

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